Memory Foam Mattresses vs Spring Mattresses
Understanding the pros and cons of a memory foam mattress and a traditional spring mattress can help you decide which type of mattress is best for you.
Feb 3rd, 2021 •
Most of us have spent the majority of our lives sleeping on a traditional innerspring mattress. When it comes time to buy a new one, it is only natural to wonder if you should switch to a memory foam mattress or stick with the good-old traditional one. There is no one answer to this question. To determine which is best for you, you must dig in and understand what each of these mattresses offer and what their downsides are.
The Traditional Mattress: Innerspring Mattresses
The first innerspring mattress was created in 1871 by Heinrich Westphal. Since that time, many breakthroughs in mattress technology have occurred, producing a wide variety of innerspring mattress options. All innerspring mattresses share a similar structure:
- A layer of coils that provides support.
- A layer of foam above and around the coils for structure and comfort.
- A quilt that serves as the top surface of the mattress.
There are four types of traditional coil mattresses.
- Bonnell Coil Mattress: This is the cheapest coil construction that leads to mediocre comfort and support as well as a short lifespan. The coils are thinner in the middle and thicker at the ends, giving it a shape similar to an hourglass.
- Offset Coil Mattress: The individual coils are laced closely together, providing stiff support that is good for those who like a very firm mattress. They are durable, but motion is spread throughout the mattress (not great for couples).
- Continuous Coil Mattress: Instead of using individual coils laced together, the continuous coil mattress is made up of one very long wire twisted into hundreds of coils. This results in a durable mattress with lots of motion transfer.
- Pocket Coil/Marshall Mattress: The coils are individually wrapped in fabric, allowing it to better conform to body contours. This also reduces noise and movement transfer. A pocket coil mattress is considered the best spring mattress and is usually the most expensive. However, they do not last as long as a continuous coil mattress.
Coil gauge is another term that you want to know when shopping for a traditional coil mattress. A lower gauge is a thicker coil that results in a supportive, firm mattress that will usually have a longer lifespan. A higher gauge is a thinner coil that will do a better job contouring and feel a bit less firm, yet the lifespan will not be as long as that of a thicker coil.
The Memory Foam Mattress
Memory foam mattresses haven’t been on the scene for as long as traditional mattresses. It was in the 1960’s that NASA scientists first designed memory foam. Since then, it has become one of the most popular types of mattress materials.
These mattresses are well-known for their ability to conform to the shape of whoever is sleeping on it. Your body weight determines which parts of the mattress will give more. This contouring allows for pressure relief and proper spine alignment. They also offer support, particularly when you get one that is on the firmer side. However, some people do not enjoy their marshmallow-like feel. They can sleep hot and be hard to get out of once you’ve sunk in.
Many foam mattresses contain not only memory foam, but another foam layer underneath that offers support. This layer is typically made up from either high-density polyurethane foam or latex.
How long a memory foam mattress lasts and how firm it feels are largely due to the density of memory foam. Look for the upper comfort layer to be 4 pounds per cubic foot or greater for longevity and support.
Which is Better? The Memory Foam Mattress vs The Traditional Mattress
While memory foam mattresses were once much more expensive than traditional mattresses, their cost has come down a lot over the years. As it stands today, you can find low-cost and high-cost mattresses in both categories.
The price point often reflects the quality of the mattress materials, but not always. When you research a new mattress, read plenty of third-party reviews to determine what mattress is best for your wallet.
As a general rule, memory foam mattresses are more durable than coil mattresses, but this depends on the individual mattress. One of the best ways to determine durability is to look at the mattress warranty. The longer the warranty and the more generous the terms, the longer the mattress is likely to last.
Support and Alignment
Both memory foam and traditional spring mattresses can be good for support. When it comes to alignment, however, memory foam mattresses come out on top. Because memory foam allows the parts of your body that stick out the most to sink in the most, it can allow for the neutral alignment of the spine, particularly for side sleepers or those who are heavy. This is what you want when you pick a mattress.
However, traditional mattresses do provide firm support that bounces back. While this type of support isn’t necessarily superior, there are many people who prefer it. Additionally, stomach sleepers need a firm mattress, and traditional mattresses tend to be firmer than memory foam.
Memory foam mattresses are the winner when it comes to relieving pain from pressure points like the hips and shoulders. This is because memory foam allows these body parts to be supported without too much push-back. The pressure caused by coils in traditional mattresses that push back against the heaviest parts of our bodies can lead to aches and pains.
Breathability and Temperature
Do you sleep hot? If so, a traditional innerspring mattress may be best for you. Memory foam mattresses provide their support through body temperature, allowing your body to sink into the mattress until it slowly molds to your body shape. While this can be comfortable for some, if you struggle with temperature sensitivity, it can feel like you’re trapped inside of a hot cocoon.
There have been advances over the years, such as gel memory foam, that allows foam mattresses to sleep cooler. However, they are still not quite as breathable as a coil mattress.
For those of us who share our beds with a partner, animal, or child, having a mattress that isolates movement can be the difference between a restful night’s sleep and difficulty sleeping every night. Memory foam mattresses are the winner when it comes to absorbing movement. Springs can bounce back and transfer energy to the other springs, resulting in one restless sleeper sharing their restlessness with the other.
Which mattress you find more comfortable is going to depend on your personal preferences. Memory foam mattresses allow you to sink in, supporting you in an almost hug-like fashion. This can be great for side sleepers or those who like the feeling of being embraced. Yet, for those who sleep hot or who like a firm, bouncy mattress, traditional mattresses are going to feel more comfortable.
Can’t Decide? Try a Hybrid or Pillow Top
Pillow tops are great when you want the firm, bouncy support offered by a traditional mattress, but with a little more cushion. Hybrid mattresses can include a base layer of spring coils and a top layer of memory foam, allowing for some of the benefits of each. You may find that a hybrid mattress offers more support and breathability than a memory foam mattress and better alignment than a traditional mattress. For an overview of the best mattresses in all four categories, check out our best mattress guide.
Many people have opted for memory foam mattresses over traditional coil mattresses, but there are even more people who are still using a traditional mattress. Each mattress type offers its own unique pros and cons, making the right choice an individual one.
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